Scotland’s Covid inquiry thrown into chaos after mass resignations



SCOTLAND’S Covid inquiry has been thrown into chaos after senior lawyers quit en masse – leading to the chairwoman standing down.

Reports suggest that the lead counsel, Douglas Ross KC, and three junior counsel resigned last Thursday, prompting Lord Poole to quit as chairwoman.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced Lady Poole’s resignation on Monday, put down to personal reasons.

But the Times has reported that relations between the lawyers and Lady Poole had broken down.

Peter Watson, who represents some of the bereaved families who lost relatives in care homes, has called for “a clear, frank and full explanation” from ministers over the situation.

Aamer Anwar, a solicitor acting for Scottish Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, claimed it was “ironic and deeply worrying” that the UK-wide inquiry into the pandemic was proceeding while the Scottish inquiry “appears to have stalled”.

A spokesman for the inquiry said: “We can confirm that four members of the counsel team have left the inquiry.

“We are immensely grateful for their contribution to the inquiry’s progress and wish them every success. The independent inquiry is continuing its important work on behalf of the public pending the appointment of a new chair.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “A public inquiry operates independently of ministers. As a result, the procedure, conduct and operation of the inquiry, including staffing and counsel appointments, are matters for the chair.

“The Scottish Government is keen to help ensure the excellent progress made so far by the inquiry is continued. Consequently, work to appoint a new chair is being progressed at pace.

“The Deputy First Minister has already spoken with the Lord President about arrangements for appointing a new judicial chair. Having advised MSPs on Monday he undertook to provide a further update to parliament about a replacement chair at the earliest opportunity.”





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Biggar: E.coli cases in South Lanarkshire double



E.coli cases in a South Lanarkshire town have doubled and two primary classes are being tested as a precaution. 

It follows an outbreak in East Lothian which forced five nurseries to close earlier this year. 

Children in the primary one and two classes at Tinto Primary School will not attend school and are being tested for the infection. 

Dr Alison Smith-Palmer, chair of the incident management team and Public Health Consultant at NHS Lanarkshire, said: “We appreciate that this will be an anxious time for those who are directly affected by the infection as well as the whole school community.

“The decision to remove the primary one/two class is one control measure we are taking to prevent further spread.

“We have written to parents, carers and staff to provide the most up to date information and ongoing health advice. We have encouraged parents to keep their children away from other children and those at higher risk until their negative results have been received.”

The incident management team, which consists of NHS Lanarkshire’s health protection team, Public Health Scotland and South Lanarkshire Council, is continuing to investigate these cases and potential sources.  

Those who have been affected are not currently attending the school or nursery.

The symptoms of E.coli O157 can include nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea or fever. In a small proportion of cases it can cause serious complications.

Dr Smith-Palmer added: “We are asking people in the local area to be alert for any symptoms they, or a child they look after, may have.

“Anyone who has developed symptoms of E.coli infection should seek medical attention as specific tests are required to diagnose the infection which can mimic other illnesses.

“Anyone who develops symptoms should contact their GP practice or NHS24 on 111 when the GP practice is closed. This is crucial to help contain the infection and stop its spread within the community.

“This recent increase in cases reinforces the importance of washing hands regularly, particularly before eating or preparing food and after going to the toilet.”





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NHS crisis has been years in the making – Covid just accelerated it


IT has become almost commonplace, year after year, for those on the frontline to warn that the NHS is facing its “worst winter ever”.

Having said that, the annual alarm bell probably fairly reflects a service finding it ever harder to cope.

Consultant vacancy rates have climbed steadily from three per cent in 2012 to 7% now (maybe as much as 15% once you count the un-advertised empty posts).

READ MORE: Yousaf sets out £600m winter plan amid warnings NHS facing ‘humanitarian crisis’

In nursing and midwifery the picture is even more stark, with vacancy rates more than doubling from 3.7% in 2016 to 8.6% now.

The average number of staffed hospital beds, meanwhile, has fallen by 700 since 2012, amid a noble ambition to keep people well for longer in the community instead. Unfortunately, this has not been matched by sufficient investment in social care at a time when the number of over-70s living with multiple long-term conditions has increased by around 50%.

The NHS is facing an 'extremely challenging' winter - but many hospitals are already facing winter-like bed shortages and overcrowding all year roundSource: Public Health Scotland

The result is that, as of August, 13% of hospital beds –nearly 1,800 per day – were occupied by patients ready for discharge but unable to leave. On average, these patients were taking up a bed, unnecessarily, for three weeks.

Good quality social care has a dual function: it helps to keep frail, elderly or disabled people from deteriorating in the first place and, once in hospital, gets them back out quicker.

Little wonder then, that A&E departments are logjammed.

For nearly 5,000 people to be spending more than 12 hours in A&E departments would have been unheard of a few years ago, even at the height of winter.

For the most part, these are patients stuck on A&E trolleys because there are no hospital beds to move them to.

The NHS is facing an 'extremely challenging' winter - but many hospitals are already facing winter-like bed shortages and overcrowding all year roundSource: Public Health Scotland

Increased demand isn’t to blame: A&E attendances remain 11% below pre-pandemic levels; the proportion of patients being admitted – 23% – is not unusually high; and the number of patients admitted to hospital for a planned operation in August was still around 4,000 lower than the average pre-Covid.

The fact is, Covid has accelerated, rather than caused, the current NHS crisis. The number of people spending over 12 hours in A&E was already rising fast, from 128 in January 2012 to 1,213 by January 2020.

Fixing it requires the same solutions those on the frontline have been calling for the past 10 years, and longer: adequate staffing, beds, and social care.





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Humza Yousaf sets out Scotland’s NHS winter plan


HEALTH Secretary Humza Yousaf has unveiled a £600 million winter resilience package for the NHS amid spiralling A&E waiting times and warnings that the NHS faces a looming “humanitarian crisis”.

The package includes £8 million to recruit up to 750 nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers from overseas, plus 250 support staff for hospitals, primary care and mental health.

Health and social care partnerships will receive £124m to expand care-at-home capacity, with £45m earmarked for the ambulance service.

GPs practices be expected to provide pre-bookable appointments alongside same-day face-to-face and remote appointments.

ANALYSIS: NHS crisis has been years in the making – Covid just accelerated it

The plan was laid out as hours after statistics revealed that a record 4,967 patients had spent over 12 hours in A&E during August waiting to be seen, treated, and subsequently admitted or discharged – an all-time high. The target is four hours.

Worsening delays are believed to have contributed to hundreds of excess deaths over the past six months, with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde confirming on Monday that it had launched an investigation into the deaths of two patients who had suffered fatal cardiac arrests in September while waiting to be seen by A&E doctors at its flagship Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Cabinet Secretary for Health, Humza YousafA&E departments saw record numbers of patients wait over 12 hours in August to be seen and then discharged or admitted

It comes days after the case of a 96-year-old former headmistress with pneumonia, Evelyn Gaw, was raised in parliament after she spent more than 40 hours on a trolley in a draughty corridor at Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock due to a lack of beds.

Her son, Dr Norrie Gaw, a GP and former head of Glasgow’s out-of-hours service, said his mother had been left “frightened, crying, breathless and disorientated”.

He added: “The staff were clearly utterly exhausted but fantastic and very apologetic, but she had to be taken on a trolley to wait in a corridor because of the lack of beds.“It was absolutely lined with patients, and this is not an exception — this is now the norm.’ On Saturday, NHS Grampian issued an appeal to the public via social media on Saturday only to attend if their condition was life-threatening, warning of “extreme pressure” at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

READ MORE: Retired nurse blames NHS blunders for avoidable sight loss 

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, a GP and Scottish Conservative health spokesman, said:

“August’s A&E waiting times are the worst on record across every category, seeing tens of thousands of patients suffering excess delays despite the best efforts of overwhelmed frontline staff.

“The fact that these figures cover the height of summer is frankly terrifying – and it’s chilling to imagine the state of our A&Es come winter.”

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour health spokeswoman, warned that without urgent action Scotland’s A&E departments “risk a humanitarian crisis” this winter.

Mr Yousaf acknowledged that A&E performance “is not where I or this Government wants it to be”, but insisted that the £600m winter package would help the NHS to cope with “what we expect to be an extremely challenging season”.

He said: “Too many people are waiting far too long for urgent care and treatment. Our A&E departments are working under significant pressure and as with health services across the UK , the pandemic continues to seriously affect these services.

“We’re determined to improve and stabilise performance, working very closely with boards on measures to reduce pressure on our acute sites.

“However, as winter arrives, those pressures will have an undoubtedly detrimental effect on already stretched services, but we will do what we can to mitigate the worst effects.”

Cabinet Secretary for Health, Humza YousafThe number of Covid positive patients in hospital is rising again in Scotland

It comes amid growing anger over the situation among NHS staff, with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) set to open its ballot on strike action on Thursday in protest over their five per cent pay offer, with nurses encouraged to vote in favour.

It will be the first time that its members in Scotland have been balloted to strike.

Doctors are also continuing to weigh up possible industrial action, after eight in 10 BMA members in Scotland said they would consider it.

Dr Lailah Peel, an emergency medicine doctor and the outgoing chair of the BMA’s Scottish junior doctor committee, warned that the NHS was on the brink of a “workforce catastrophe” after a BMA survey of junior doctors in Scotland found that half (49.8%) of those who responded were thinking about quitting their jobs in the next two years.

Junior doctors account for 44% of all the doctors employed by health boards.

Dr Peel said: “We are already desperately short-staffed – we need more doctors across the entire system from primary care through to the highest levels in secondary care – we cannot afford to lose valuable junior doctors who are the future of our senior workforce.

“Urgent action must be taken to make junior doctors feel valued in their workplace and (to) want to stay in Scotland’s NHS for the majority, if not entirety, of their careers.”

READ MORE: Scotland’s downward spiral in life expectancy wasn’t inevitable 

Some 90% of the 320 respondents said issues and challenges of working as a junior doctor in the health service over the past year have lowered their morale, with 52% having told the survey it has significantly lowered their morale.

Dr Peel said: “There are many factors contributing to this feeling of discontentment among the workforce, but this year’s pay award, which is essentially a pay cut in real terms, certainly hasn’t helped matters and has led to many junior doctors re-evaluating their futures within our NHS.”

She added that while pay must be resolved there were “other things the Government can do as quick fixes to make the working lives of junior doctors easier” like uninterrupted breaks at work, a locker to store belongings, and access to hot food while working long shifts out of hours.

“If I can make one final plea to the Scottish Government before I stand down as chair of SJDC, it’s this: act now, please. Do something before it’s too late,” she said.

Mr Yousaf said the government at Holyrood has “already delivered record levels of staffing in NHS Scotland”, with the number of doctors in training, as of June this year, is up 14.3% from September 2006.

He added that 2022 “is set to be the most successful year of medical trainee recruitment in Scotland in the last five years, with a 95% fill rate so far”.

READ MORE: Scotland’s Covid inquiry thrown into chaos by mass resignations 

Despite the strain on services during August, there was evidence of an uptick in elective activity.

The total number of planned operations carried out – 21,218 – was the highest since February 2020, and up 19% compared to July 2022.

This coincided with a push to clear waiting list backlogs.

In July 2022, the Scottish Government set a target to eradicate two year waits for outpatients in most specialities by the end of August 2022, and by the end of September for inpatient and day case procedures.

By the end of August, 76% of outpatient specialities had no or fewer than ten patients on their lists who had been waiting more than two years.

Cabinet Secretary for Health, Humza YousafThe number of elective surgeries being performed in August was the highest since before the pandemic (Source: Public Health Scotland)

Inpatient data is not yet available, but activity in August – while up – remains 16% below pre-pandemic levels.

There was also a spike in cancellations.

One in 10 procedures scheduled to take place during August called off on the day, or the day before, including 890 which were cancelled for “non-clinical/capacity” reasons such as lack of theatre space, staff or beds – the highest number since 2018.

Dr Gulhane said Mr Yousaf had “offered no solutions to the crisis in our A&E departments”.

He added: “Scotland’s NHS is already at breaking point, and if this is all the Health Secretary can muster, then we are in for a terrifying winter.”

Scottish LibDem leader and health spokesman, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said: “So much of this relates back to staffing. It’s been staring this government in the face for years.

“Last week, a whistleblower told me that the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary operates routinely with 80 fewer nurses than it needs on every single shift.”

Mr Yousaf said: “NHS Scotland’s staffing and funding is already at historically high levels, but as we approach the winter period it is crucial that we look to maximise, and enhance where we can, the capacity of the NHS.

“Given the scale of the escalating cost of living crisis, combined with the continued uncertainty posed by Covid and a possible resurgence of flu, this winter will be one of the most challenging our NHS has ever faced.”





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Warning almost half of Scots junior doctors could quit profession



Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is being urged to act before it is too late as a new survey of junior doctors revealed almost half are considering quitting the profession.

A BMA Scotland survey of its junior doctor members revealed 49.8% were considering leaving their jobs within the next two years, with current issues in the NHS leaving them feeling “demoralised, undervalued and exhausted”.

Dr Lailah Peel, the outgoing chair of the BMA’s Scottish junior doctor committee (SJDC), said it was “incredibly concerning to see these stats laid out in black and white”.

“If the views of the respondents of our survey are representative of the entire junior doctor workforce in Scotland we could be walking into a workforce catastrophe in the next two years,” she warned.

READ MORE: More than 3,000 Scots ‘waited over eight hours for an ambulance’

Some 90% of the 320 respondents said issues and challenges of working as a junior doctor in the health service over the past year have lowered their morale, with 52% having told the survey it has significantly lowered their morale.

A junior doctor is any doctor in clinical training who is not a consultant or GP, and make up 44% of doctors employed by NHS boards.

Dr Peel, who works in an accident and emergency department, said: “We are already desperately short-staffed – we need more doctors across the entire system from primary care through to the highest levels in secondary care – we cannot afford to lose valuable junior doctors who are the future of our senior workforce.

“Urgent action must be taken to make junior doctors feel valued in their workplace and (to) want to stay in Scotland’s NHS for the majority, if not entirety, of their careers.”

She said when speaking to her colleagues they felt “unappreciated and undervalued”.

“There are many factors contributing to this feeling of discontentment among the workforce, but this year’s pay award, which is essentially a pay cut in real terms, certainly hasn’t helped matters and has led to many junior doctors re-evaluating their futures within our NHS,” Dr Peel said.

She added that while pay must be resolved there were “other things the Government can do as quick fixes to make the working lives of junior doctors easier” like uninterrupted breaks at work, a locker to store belongings, and access to hot food while working long shifts out of hours.

“If I can make one final plea to the Scottish Government before I stand down as chair of SJDC, it’s this: act now, please. Do something before it’s too late,” she said.

READ MORE: Cost-of-living report lays bare struggles of Scots families

Mr Yousaf said the government at Holyrood has “already delivered record levels of staffing in NHS Scotland, and the number of doctors in training, as of June this year, is up 14.3% from September 2006 – and 2022 is set to be the most successful year of medical trainee recruitment in Scotland in the last five years, with a 95% fill rate so far”.

He added: “We’re committed to delivering the recommendations of last year’s report on junior doctor wellbeing and have begun introducing improvements to working conditions, including guidance to NHS boards to limit consecutive days of long shifts as well as ongoing wellbeing support available through the National Wellbeing Hub, a 24/7 National Wellbeing Helpline, confidential mental health treatment through the Workforce Specialist Service and funding for additional local psychological support.

“We owe all our health and social care staff an incredible debt for all they have been through as a result of the pandemic and the issues we still face as we start to recover and deal with the backlog of care needed.

“Today I am updating parliament on the preparations we are making for this winter, which still promises to be a difficult time for all, but I am clear that protecting and responding to staff is at the heart of how we meet these challenges.”

But Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, said the statistics revealing the number of junior doctors quitting the profession were “a stark wake-up call for the beleaguered Health Secretary”.

“Our NHS is in the midst of a workforce crisis and every effort must be made to keep medics within the NHS,” the MSP said.

“Humza Yousaf cannot keep turning his back on Scotland’s junior doctors – he must act now before it is too late.”





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Letters: If national park body really wants climate change action, it should stop blocking green energy


GORDON Watson’s Agenda piece (“National parks have key role in net zero journey”, The Herald, September 28) was right to stress the need for urgent action on climate change.

He is right too to point out that the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is the “perfect place to take forward the innovation and scale of investment required to make a real difference”. However, if the park is serious about this, it is going to take a lot more than repeating noble sentiments about “nature-based solutions”, “reversing biodiversity loss”, “sustainable transport” and “active travel”. The problem is the park doesn’t have the financial resources to deliver much on any of these noble aims, which would perhaps explain the lack of detail about how they are going to be realised.

However, there is nothing preventing the park from using its planning system to encourage green energy investment within its own boundaries now. It could also refrain from objecting to green energy developments outside the park, but near its boundary. I am thinking here of onshore wind and pumped storage, both of which are essential ingredients in the country’s scramble to free itself from reliance on fossil fuel. There are a number of suitable sites for these technologies both within and around the park’s boundaries and I would be brave enough to suggest that none of them would cause the conservation sky to fall in. And in taking such a bold step, the national park would be setting an example that others might care to follow.
John Urquhart, Helensburgh

Power cuts could be worse this time

IN the past we have had prolonged power cuts. The three-day week of 1973/4 comes to mind. But our dependence on electricity was much less then. Now it powers and organises everything, and our survival depends on a continuous supply. In today’s world a series of prolonged power outages would have significant effects.

No computers. The internet would cease. No communication. No online banking. No benefit payments. No lottery. No TV or radio. Airports would close and hospitals would have problems. Electric cars would be unable to charge and others unable to refuel. Buses and trains would stop.

Landline and mobile phone coverage would eventually fail. Supermarkets would close and panic buying would start. Water and sewerage – now computerised – would fail.

No light and no heat.

The grid might require a restart that could take weeks.

And in nine months the birth rate will sharply increase.

As we dispense with continuous fossil and nuclear power, let us hope that wind and sun and water live up to their green energy promise.
Malcolm Parkin, Kinross

We must stop assisted suicide

YOU’D have to have a heart of stone not to sympathise with Hilda Butler in her account of her husband’s suffering and death (Letters, September 29). As a result of that experience she pleads for us to support Liam McArthur’s members’ bill on assisted dying.

But, by her own account, her husband did experience “assisted dying”. She informs us that “a dedicated multidisciplinary team in the community did everything they could for him, unstintingly and with great compassion”.

What Mr McArthur’s bill is actually calling for is something quite different: assisted suicide. Your article (“Dignitas backs proposals for assisted dying”, The Herald, September 26) outlining the contribution of the pressure group Dignitas to the consultation on the bill correctly uses the term “physician-assisted suicide”. Suicide – deliberately killing oneself – and dying a natural death are different categories of human experience.

The bill proposes that medics take practical steps to aid and abet people to kill themselves. As a society we judge that killing is morally wrong. Aiding and abetting killing is therefore also morally wrong. To involve others – whether healthcare professionals or family or the personnel in an “end of life” clinic – in deliberately ending life is immoral, and in this country currently illegal.

We run a serious societal risk if we legislate for physicians to participate in immoral and dangerous practices. The McArthur bill puts the whole relationship of trust between the medical profession and the public in jeopardy. It is understandable and right to reduce the personal distress that people experience as they face death. This bill unfortunately introduces a much more widespread form of distress to our whole society.
David Kennedy, Glasgow

The sound and the fury

THE inaugural concert of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s new season took place in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday evening. Wonderful performances of Benjamin Britten and Igor Stravinsky were marred by the world premiere performance of David Fennessy’s The Riot Act (“RSNO gets it all Rite”, The Herald, October 3). This was excruciating.

I say that, not because the music was avant garde, or “difficult”, or dissonant, or tuneless (though all of that is true), but because it was painfully, and I mean painfully, loud. The Battle of George Square which took place on January 31, 1919, a police baton charge into a demonstration of striking workers, was re-enacted with tenor Mark Le Brocq reading, or singing, the Riot Act, while the RSNO recreated the riot, a formidable battery of percussion giving it laldy, augmented by four shrieking police whistles scattered about the choir stalls. It was agony.

But this is not a music crit; it is a complaint about a violation of health and safety. I had to cover my ears. In his introduction before the performance, the composer had extolled our rights of freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech. It crossed my mind to stand up during the performance and exercise such rights with my own personal demonstration against noise pollution. But I would not have been heard. People might have thought I was part of the performance. There was a further irony in the juxtaposition of The Riot Act with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring which, at its first performance in Paris in 1913, caused a riot. After the Fennessy, the Stravinsky sounded like Eine kleine Nachtmusik.
Dr Hamish Maclaren, Stirling

Gentile touch

IT was a sobering thought to learn (“Mexicans are going crazy for the House of Commons whisky”, The Herald, October 1) that Mr Buchanan aimed to develop a whisky for the non-Jewish tipplers (… “that would appeal to the more gentile English palate). L’chaim, or maybe not.
Mark Bratchpiece, Motherwell


Should wind turbines be allowed within and around the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park boundary?

Letters should not exceed 500 words. We reserve the right to edit submissions.






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Ambulance Scotland: More than 3,000 Scots ‘waited over eight hours’



More than 3,000 people waited longer than eight hours for an ambulance last year, with one patient in the second most severe category waiting a day and a half, figures show.

Statistics released to the Scottish Liberal Democrats under freedom of information legislation showed 3,652 people waited more than 480 minutes for an ambulance – five of whom were considered the second most severe level recorded by the Scottish Ambulance Service.

The figure amounts to less than 0.7% of total ambulance callouts last year.

Calls are considered “red” if there is a 1% to 9.9% chance of cardiac arrest in the patient, or if the need for resuscitation is 2% or higher.

Some 45 people in the amber category waited longer than eight hours in 2021-22, the figures show, while the vast majority – 3,602 – were in the lowest yellow category.

The release showed that at least one person waited longer than six hours for an ambulance after being assessed as a purple call – the most severe level where the rate of cardiac arrest is approximately 53% – although the exact number waiting this long is not known because it is lower than five.

The longest response time for purple calls last year was 363 minutes – just over six hours – while someone assessed in the red category waited 2,175 minutes – 36 hours and 15 minutes.

The longest time for amber or yellow category calls was around 29 hours.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the figures should “set emergency lights flashing” in the Scottish Government.

“When someone is in a moment of crisis and chooses to call 999, they want to know that there will be someone at the other end of the line able to help them,” he said.

“These figures should set emergency lights flashing in the Health Secretary’s office.

“The SNP continuously ignored the warnings of ambulance staff for years. We are now seeing the results of that neglect.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have called for an inquiry into avoidable emergency care deaths.

“The Health Secretary should admit that he had previously underestimated the scale of the challenge and that the present NHS recovery plan is not up to scratch.

“Swift action might be the difference between life and death.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The pandemic has been the biggest challenge the NHS has faced in its 74-year existence and has heaped pressure on our ambulance service and wider NHS.

“Our ambulance crews continue to see a rise in response to the most serious incidents but continue to respond to 99% of high priority calls in under 30 minutes.

“Our funding boost to the service has seen record recruitment of 540 additional ambulance staff last year, to ensure it is working as efficiently as possible.”





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